the journey


September 6, 2007

Current Location: Niue
Current Position: Approx. S19° 02', W169 ° 55'

Everything in Niue was an adventure. Even anchoring and dinghying to shore. Thankfully upon our arrival we were able to glide into the only protected harbor and pick up an empty mooring. If not we would have had to have anchored in 65 or more feet of water dodging a boulder field of limestone to drop our anchor in. Dinghy landing was an adventure itself. One had to cross the bay to the cement wharf. At low tide one had to time one's exit well so as to avoid the surge and be able to land on the steps without slipping on the algae covered treads. Then one had to attach the hook for the crane to lift the dingy out of the water. Gar chose to skip the exit onto the steps and instead rode 10 feet up in the dingy to the top of the wharf and parking area for all tenders. In order to move our 200 plus pound tender, we used the trolley that waited for all and maneuvered her into position among as many as ten or more other dinks. Then we were off.

In town, we had to plan extra time to talk to the incredibly friendly locals who talked to me anytime I paused on the street. Cruisers were thick in these parts and many couldn't seem to leave. Conversation, ice creams, dinners, and beers were shared at least once a day.

When we weren't diving we had land adventures. For two days we rented a car and explored the island.

Our new friend Jared, a Kiwi certifying organic farmers, took us to a vanilla plantation. We spotted a few white orchids peering out beneath waxy leaves and swollen green vanilla pods. We learned each orchid needs to be hand pollinated and I was reminded how much I love vanilla.

Leaving the climbing vines behind, we headed to Nonga's house in search of dried pods. We could smell her house before we saw it. The sweet seducing scent of vanilla floated over the road where we parked. After greeting the guard dog, we wandered into the yard to linger over two large tables full of drying vanilla. I had to stop myself from burying my face into the beans or holding one to my nose all day (which by the way I did once we left Nonga's).

The vanilla was drying in two stages and inside her house she had several 5 gallon buckets full of various quality cured pods. Satiating my desire to surround myself with vanilla, we left after buying a fist full of delicious Tahitian vanilla pods and sampling a sweet version of Nonu also known as Noni.

Then we headed to Talava Arches. A large cave formation stretching to the sea. Wild vines and bushes hung over the roof while the arches opened broadly towards the sea. Wandering through Talava, I couldn't stop touching the water smoothed limestone, such a contrast to the sharp almost razor like surface of so much of the exposed limestone we climbed over along the coast. Staring out to sea while watching for whales under the cool arches, I couldn't help but want to stay all day.

I wanted to stay all day everywhere we went. Matapa Chasm was no different. The sun finally burst through the relentless rain clouds and I sat on the limestone rocks warming myself like a snake, waiting to wade into the beckoning water. Matapa was once the bathing place of Niuean royalty and it's no wonder. Smooth limestone walls stretch up into the sky creating a kind of long hallway where seawater filters though, freshening this already incredible pool.

Swimming towards the pounding sound of waves and the mouth of the chasm, I was again seduced. Small fish swam beneath me while a layer of fresh water cooled the surface of the pool making it optically challenging to see through the fresh and saltwater layers. Lingering as close to surge entering the pool, as I would allow, I let the surge push and pull me. Turning back towards shore I swam lazily through spots of sunlight until my toes were numb with cold. Climbing out to lie on top of the flat hot limestone, I thought, if I was royalty, I too would come everyday, especially if someone would feed me papaya.

We followed flitting yellow butterflies through a dense forest towards Togo chasm. The booming of waves reminded us we were never far from the ocean. Emerging from the forest, jagged limestone rocks stretched out like teeth as far as we could see. Weaving our way down the paved path, we peered over the edge as the mighty pacific pounded into the cliffs beneath us. Turning back towards the chasm, we climbed down 27 rungs of a ladder to the golden sandy floor. Green coconut trees decorated this south pacific wonderland while limestone walls framed this magical landscape.

We saved the best for last. By 8:30 am we again followed butterflies through a thick forest, winding our way past lauhala trees while lapis and brown lizards scurried under our feet. I was distracted by baby coconut trees sprouting in the shade. Wanting to practice my developing husking skills, Gar patiently waited as I had husked a "pod" coconut. Cracking it on a sharp limestone rock nearby we ate the spongy meat along with the crispy edges that hadnít quite turned yet. After abandoning the rest of our snack to the awaiting hermit crabs we passed a sign "Vaikona Chasm DANGER falling rocks enter at your own risk Niue Police Department." We lingered, wondered if we were in the right place and then walked to the coast. The ocean pounded into the sea caves beneath our feet while we watched the ocean flood cascading limestone steps. They were dripping frothy seawater, like frosting on a beautiful cake until the next set rolled in.

But we did not come for the sea. We walked back up the path to the sign at the entrance. We peered into the low overhang and watched water drip from the ceiling. "Stay close," Gar whispered. Scurrying over wet and somewhat slippery smooth limestone I could hear my heart pounding like the ocean. Staring up at the ceiling, I could see raw spots where blocks had fallen. After lowering myself down the first ledge, I forgot my fear for an instant as I peered past ferns ignited green with sunlight into a shimmering sapphire blue pool that seduced me in seconds. We were in a sacred place.

I was determined to make it to the pool. Turning back to the task at hand, I wavered looking at the orange nylon rope tied around two less than desirable soft limestone chock stones. There was no choice than to trust my weight to the rope and use my feet to lower myself to an awaiting rock. Balancing for an instant on the lip of the rock before scurrying down to more stable ground, I was again struck by the power of these pools.

Looking above me to the opening between the caves, ferns and trees bowed in the wind. Below, everything was still. The ferns glowed and the deep blue pool beckoned to me. Giving thanks, I climbed down into the pool. As the cool water surrounded me, I felt blessed. I swam through the pool into the end of the dark cave and back into the scattered sunlight. Floating on my back staring at the caves walls and the trees above me I breathed in and out in awe and with gratitude.

September 8, 2007

Current Location: Niue
Current Position: Approx. S19° 02', W169 ° 55'

To dive in Niue one has to be comfortable with small spaces, darkness, and snakes. Plunging into the warm blue liquid we found ourselves entranced by the almost limitless visibility of the crystal clear water. The contrast was even more dramatic as the days we dove in Niue the sky was thick with dark rain clouds and the mighty wind was whipping up the waves around us. Each time we rolled backwards off the dive boat we left the clouds behind and were greeted by the underwater marvels of this unique island.

Niue is like a limestone sculpture. Chiseled away by the ocean, the features of the underwater world of Niue beckon exploration. Descending down into the labyrinth of limestone arches and tunnels we were like little kids exploring the nooks and crannies for hidden creatures. Lionfish, lobster, and baby white-tipped reef sharks greeted us as we peeked into their hiding places. In one cave I dubbed the "lobster compound" I found 17 lobster dangling out of their rocky crevices that they call home during the daylight hours. I felt like I had entered an alien world with the glow from my dive-light illuminating the surreal translucent creatures all around me. Because I was so entranced by this world I missed the 7 lionfish, 4 of them babies that Nicole had spotted on the cave's exterior walls as we left the compound. Nicole's eye for detail is outstanding underwater and she always finds the fascinating little creatures that I glance over.

And then there was the light. There is something about the light and the water in Niue that is almost otherworldly. The light that filters through to the edges of the caves is brilliantly mysterious; it glows the deep blue color of twilight. The silhouettes of fish decorate the edges of caves and when one peers under overhangs, many more are found.

Diving in caves is a strange experience though and not for everyone. Nicole and I were fairly green when it came to caves and some dives felt better then others. There were times when a touch of claustrophobia would kick in and I would have to really concentrate on slowing my breathing and not let the panic button get pushed. A forced meditation.

Two of our dives took us deep under the island shoreline where we surfaced inside underground caves, the "Bubble and Dome Caves". It was a strange sensation surfacing inside these caves where the fresh spring water from the island mixes with the salty Pacific creating a strange dreamy visual through our dive-masks. We bobbed around inside the caves and were shown beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, coconut crabs, and the home of where sea snakes lay their eggs.

Another dive took us to Snake Gully. Not for the snake phobic people out there, we literally dove over sandy chasms where hundreds of sea snakes tend to congregate and coil up together in their protected sanctuary. The snakes breathe air, so as we swam through their world we found ourselves surrounded by black and white banded sea snakes swimming vertically back and forth between the surface and their sandy bed below. It felt like we were in the middle of a slow-motion rainstorm with snakes acting the part of elongated raindrops streaming past us in all directions.

Our last dive took us out to the coral gardens of Niue. Most of the coral has been devastated because of the all too real cyclones that strike from time to time and wreak havoc on this vulnerable little rock. But at this spot the hard corals are alive and healthy covering the limestone features with all colors, shapes and sizes. Schools of damselfish, surgeonfish, tangs, tobies, gobies, and butterflies all make their homes here. And for a final departure gift the Niuean water gods blessed us with a sight of seven white-tipped reef sharks, a rarity in these waters.

It was sad to say farewell to this unique and enchanting island. But as the coconut eventually falls from the tree, so to do we need to once again sail on westward towards the end of our South Pacific milk run adventure.